Last week Sunday August 23rd, a 29-year-old man by the name of Jacob Blake was shot in the back 7 times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He was shot in front of his three small children who were in the car. The latest shooting of an unarmed black person by police triggered a rash of protests across the nation. The NBA,which had just restarted its league in “bubbles” located in Orlando, FL stopped all games for several days as the players struck in protest of the continued police brutality towards the Black community. There were confirmed reports that a lot of players came very close to leaving the bubble to return home and join the fight on the ground for equality and social justice. There was a palpable heaviness in the air, and between the racial and political tensions stoked by a racist presidential administration with the backdrop of the coronavirus, the energy was at a very low point. Then Chadwick Boseman, our beloved colloquial King, passed away on the Friday and it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I remember reflecting on the state of my mental health. While I had definitely toughened up my mental muscles over the past year, they took a severe beating that week. By the weekend, I felt emotionally drained and tired to my soul. It just seemed like the Black community overall kept taking hits and barely had time to recover before the next blow landed. Having a strong mental discipline and being able to control emotions especially in a time like this is of paramount need, and yet is the one thing many Black people struggle with for so many different reasons. Therapy and self-development work wasn’t really at the top of many Black communities’ agendas; we were too busy trying to survive and rebuild after the effects of 401 years of slavery and European colonialism. Talking about our feelings and healing generational trauma wasn't really at the top of our priority list prior to my generation. Our typical ways of dealing with things collectively is demonstrated in two main ways: music and sports. Black people literally are culture. Our pain and struggle in many ways is part of our culture because pain and struggle are one of the side effects of being Black, no matter where in the world you are. While we all have different ways of how we deal with that, from complete denial and distancing from our Blackness to total martyrdom and militancy for it, Black people all carry the mantle of our skin colour in many different ways. But we’ve always had sports and music as two outlets for our pains and frustrations.
I remember when I first moved to the States and was exposed to Black American culture and people. One of the oddest statements I used to hear from Black people from the US was this pervasive complaint about Black people being nothing other than athletes and entertainers. I always found this argument extremely troubling for several reasons. For one, there is a sort of arrogance Black Americans have because they have so many high quality entertainers and athletes. I find that at times, they don’t really appreciate in the moment the greatness they have. It is sometimes taken for granted or assumed there will be another just like it from the pool of Black entertainers. For those of us who are born and raised outside of the US, we know how amazing Black American entertainers are and the level of privilege they have simply for being Black and being born in America. There are opportunities that are more easily and readily available to Black athletes and entertainers who are either naturalized or natural-born citizens. But when you are in the fish bowl, it can be hard for you to see the perspectives of others outside of it unless you purposely expose yourself to other foreign thought concepts outside of Americana. And that is something a lot of Black people are not willing to do.
As the country seemed to be devolving into utter chaos with no leadership from the White House, Black athletes and entertainers stepped up and did what they always do. They healed us for a moment. It first started with the NBA players returning to their playoff games. There was backlash by some in the community as it was reported that President Obama had met with a number of players and encouraged them to play but use their return to work as leverage to get real change made, which they did. There were firm commitments and tangible steps taken immediately after the holdout. NBA owners didn’t just listen, they took the actions as demanded by the players. Whole arena’s were being converted into polling stations. Commercials featuring coaches and staff encouraging people to vote started circulating. Small but significant steps started being taken as a result of the players strike. Then there was our music. One of the biggest musical events, the Brandy versus Monica Verzuz event was being held on the Monday night following the death of Chadwick and the shooting of Jake. With 1.2 MM viewers on Instagram alone, it was one of the highest viewed events and reportedly had more viewership than the MTV VMA’s that had aired the night before. The entire world came online to listen to two Black women sing and celebrate their musical catalogues. It was an incredible night of song, dance, celebration and joy. It healed the Black community in ways we desperately needed to be healed in. For 3 hours, we celebrated our ancestors with song and dance, poetry and tributes.
After the event ended, as I was floating on a cloud of bliss, I thought about all those criticisms previously made about entertainers and athletes. I thought about what the NBA would have looked like if Black players didn’t dominate in the numbers they did. I thought about all the entertainers that were helping us through song and art to heal ourselves and deal with the traumas we face. I thought about all the money, cultural power and influence we actually have as a people. And then I had an even more epiphanic thought. What if our athletes and entertainers are actually healers? What if, by them living their dreams and pursuing their passions in the face of great adversity, they are showing us how to do the same? What if instead of selling out, they are learning how to negotiate and leverage influence? What if music, which has healing properties, was the conduit the Universal Father sent us to spread a balm over many of our broken spirits? I personally choose to believe this version of reality. I choose to see my community members not as sell-outs but rather as doing the best they can. Sometimes they’re going to get it right. Sometimes they’re not. But either way, I’m going to support and uplift them because they are really doing their best. As we all are.
One of my greatest hopes for Black Americans collectively is that they will see what the rest of the world sees: the beauty, humanity and grace in their great ones. I hope we give them their roses while they are alive to smell and enjoy them.